03/11/2006 1:00AM

Cause to Believe takes California Derby

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ALBANY, Calif. - Cause to Believe ($3) took another big stride toward the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, capturing the $100,000 at Golden Gate Fields.

Cause to Believe was last early as Sinister Minister set brisk early fractions of 22.19 and 45.26. He moved along the rail on the second turn and was second about five lengths behind Sinister Minister as the field of five turned for home.

Hugging the rail, Sinister Minister tried to jump the rail as the field straightened for home, bumping into it three times as Cause to Believe quickly moved past him and then cruised home four lengths in front in 1:41.07 for 1 1/16 miles. Sinister Minister finished 14 lengths in front of The Five J's who nosed out Passive Income for third. The winning time was the fastest of the meet at the distance by .93 of a second.

After the race, co-owner Peter Abruzzo said he and partner Peter Redekop would put up the $6,000 needed to supplement the colt to the Kentucky Derby.

Winning jockey Russell Baze was confident the entire trip, and said Sinister Minister's erratic run through the stretch was not the reason he won.

"The other horse hitting the fence made my job easier, but we were going to get him anyway," Baze said. "We were gathering him in. He kinda eased up a bit after we got the lead. There's more to the horse than he showed today.

"They were going fast up front because my horse was quite a ways back. I just started knuckling him, and he started to pick up horses. I didn't go to the whip because he gives me a good burst when I did. I didn't ask him till we turned for home.

"When I looked up and saw Sinister Minister right on the fence around the turf, I eased out because I wanted to make sure I was clear."

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the Grade 2 $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 8 would be Cause to Believe's next start, saying, "The timing is perfect if we're going to run in the Derby, and it's been a successful race in the past."

Hollendorfer was pleased with Cause to Believe's effort.

"This horse keeps showing me more and more, and I still think he's capable of doing better."

The victory improved Cause to Believe's record to six wins and three seconds in nine starts. The Maria's Mon colt has five stakes victories and is undefeated around two turns. A $30,000 purchase at the March 2005 Ocala sale, he raised his career earning to $335,565 with the $55,000 he earned for the victory.

The victory was Hollendorfer's second in the race. He also won with Pike Place Dancer in 1996 before she won the Kentucky Oaks. It was Baze's fourth victory, tying him with John Longden for the most California Derby victories.

Earlier on the card, Bai and Bai ($3.60) defeated Mamita Chula by four lengths to win the $49,950 Telegraph Hill Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.66. The $3,200 yearling purchase earned $29,250 to increase her career earnings to $154,823 with her fourth victory and second stakes win in eight starts.